Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Wish I Could Re-read For the First Time

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

August 24: Books I Wish I Could Read Again for the First Time

1. The Secret History by Donna Tartt– I wish I could read this again and not know what was coming. At the same time I’m really glad I read this for the first time when I did, because my high school English class was reading Crime and Punishment at the time. There are a lot of parallels and I appreciated the enriched experience in that way. I think it would hold up well to a reread though. I just wish I could recreate that experience of finding those parallels and getting excited.

2. Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier– Last year I reread this with a book club and I found myself really jealous of the members who were reading it for the first time and didn’t know what twists and turns lay ahead.

3. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie- The first time I read this I tried to read it as a detective and figure out whodunnit as I read. I wasn’t right, but I tried! I think I’d like the experience of reading it as more of a reader and going along with the story without trying to be two steps ahead.

4. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield– I remember staying up late into the night with this one, and feeling the thrill of surprise as the story unfolded. Those reading experiences are wonderful and rare.

5. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro– This one had a slowly building sense of dread as I realized what was happening. At the same time I kept hoping that I’d be proven wrong. That sense of building tension without a “reveal” (rather a gradual unfolding) is not something I encounter often.

6. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters -I read this book for the first time while I was on a train. At one point I got to a plot twist and I literally shouted, “Holy crap!” Out loud. It’s a rare book that makes me embarrass myself on public transportation.

7. The Other by Thomas Tryon- There was one twist in this book that I felt was really obvious. Once it was revealed, I felt like I was very smart, I’d figured the book out, and it was going to be disappointing. Little did I know there were other turns ahead! I think the initial twist as a sort of misdirection, so the reader wasn’t on the lookout anymore.

8. A Little Life by Hana Yanagihara- This one didn’t have any huge surprises in it, but I became so invested in these characters, for better or for worse (and often it was for worse.) I was legitimately worried about them it was a wonderful and stressful experience. I think it would hold up to rereads, though, because I know what’s coming for the characters and I can focus on other things without worrying about them so much. Just a note: I’m always hesitant to recommend this one without including a content warning, because some of the content is very difficult.

9. East of Eden by John Steinbeck -I honestly think I was too young for this the first time I read it. It’s on my to be reread list, and I think I’ll get a lot more out of it a second time, but I wish I was coming to it fresh.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Wanted To Abandon

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

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This weeks’ topic was:

May 26: Opening Lines (Best, favorite, funny, unique, shocking, gripping, lines that grabbed you immediately, etc.)

but I got confused about the date and didn’t realize until the last minute, so I had already made a list for:

May 12: The Last Ten Books I Abandoned (this could be books you DNFed, books you decided you were no longer interested in, etc.) (submitted by Claire @ Book Lovers Pizza)

which was a week I’d skipped. I don’t usually DNF books because not finishing something always makes me feel like things are left undone.  But these are the last books that I definitely considered putting down at one point or another. Maybe I’ll revisit this week’s topic on another week.

91gjjmku0ul._ac_uy218_1.Harvest Home by Thomas Tryon– My book club has been reading a books of a different genre each week. For this coming week it’s horror. I chose this book because I’d read The Other by the same author and really liked it. Unfortunately this one didn’t live up to that standard.

 

 

71n0ypoubcl._ac_uy218_2.Three Women by Lisa Taddeo– I read this one because it had been getting rave reviews and showing up on a million “must read” lists. The subject (female desire) didn’t particularly interest me, but I figured if it was handled with insight or skill that might change. Unfortunately I didn’t feel like this look at the sex lives of these three (suburban, white, American) women shed any light on the subject.

 

91sxuv4qn0l._ac_uy218_3. Clandara by Evelyn Anthony– I’d  had  this on my shelf forever and I can’t remember where I first got it. It’s a historical romance set against the fall of the Jacobite cause in Scotland. The research and history was actually handled well, but the “hero” and “heroine” were both such despicable human beings that I didn’t care what happened to either one of them. I just felt sorry for any characters who happened to cross their paths.

 

5174gdpp4ml._ac_uy218_4. Hearts and Bones by Margaret Lawrence– I had a copy of this one for a while too (If nothing else, this prolonged time at home is helping read a few of those books I’ve had sitting around!) and it looked good: a historical mystery set in the early days of America. But I couldn’t engage or invest in any of the characters. Usually I can invest in unlikable characters, but in this case I got the sense that the author didn’t know that they were unlikable.

 

91y5qqyms0l._ac_uy218_5. The People in the Trees by Hana Yanagihara-In this case  the author was well aware that the character was unlikable. I  read this one because I’d been really moved by A Little Life by the same author. Once again I admired the skill with which the difficult story was told, but in this case I felt like I was reading a textbook rather than a novel. Even when it was supposed to make me angry, I couldn’t feel anything.

 

81epe0lxakl._ac_uy218_6. The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher- I was surprised by the fact that I didn’t like this one because I’d expected to. It’s been recommended to me many times and it’s been compared to other books I’ve really liked. But the inter-generational story featured three generations of characters I didn’t like: even when I was clearly supposed to. The characters that I wasn’t supposed to like felt paper thin.

 

81mtqf4rhyl._ac_uy218_7.Beyond the Wild River by Sarah Maine– I’d been interested in reading books by this author for a while since she’s frequently compared to authors that I like.  Maybe I’ll give her another chance with a different book. This one sounded like it had potential: a mystery set in the 1890s with an heiress and several wealthy friends on a fishing trip with an accused murderer. But nothing landed. I felt like I was just waiting for it to be over.

 

81gig3gangl._ac_uy218_8.The Answers by Catherine Lacey- This one was recommended quite a bit and got pretty good reviews. It also had an interesting premise, a broke girl gets a second job as a “girlfriend” of a famous actor. But while interesting thoughts and ideas were presented, nothing was really explored and I never felt like I knew the characters.

 

 

a1yvcyz-l._ac_uy218_9.  An Incomplete Revenge by Jacqueline Winspear– I liked the first few Maisie Dobbs books, but with this one I really started to feel like the series was covering the same depressing ground over and over. In the first book we meet a heroine who has been traumatized be her service as a nurse in WWI as she starts a post war business. Several books later it’s the great depression, she’s still traumatized and all her cases still involve things that happened during WWI. I don’t know if I’m going to move on with this series or not.

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Books That Gave Me a Book Hangover

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

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February 18: The Last Ten Books That Gave Me a Book Hangover (submitted by Deanna @ A Novel Glimpse)

For me book hangovers are rare. Even with a great book I’m aware that the next great book is on the horizon! The ones that give me hangovers aren’t always my favorites or even the best ones. But something about them sticks with me and makes it harder than usual to move on.  So I decided to just do ten books that left me with lingering effects instead of the last ten. So yes, I might miss one or two, but you’ll get an idea. I also wan’t 100% literal with the term “book hangover”: anything that linger afterward in a strong was qualified for the list.

81nembjjg8l._ac_uy218_ml3_1.Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling– This shouldn’t be a surprise. By the time I finished this one I felt like I’d been on a long journey, and left several old friends behind.

91tal5fv30l._ac_uy218_ml3_2. Written in My Own Heart’s Blood by Diana Gabaldon– It’s rare when one of my favorite entries in a series comes eight books in, but this one pulled it off, leaving me in a place where I felt emotionally exhausted but satisfied and then ending things with a beautiful reunion.

51omzinvtpl-_ac_us218_3. The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons- I think my response to this book was based largely on who I was and where I was (in terms of my life) at the time that I read it. I sobbed for like two hours when I finished this! But then I found out that there were two sequels, and while I enjoyed them to differing degrees I didn’t have the same emotional response. That makes me think that it was less about the book itself and more about something it touched off at the time.

51vp6vchi4l-_ac_us218_4.A Little Life by Hana Yanagihara– This left me with kind of a numbness. I felt like I’d be through so much with these characters, so how was I supposed to just pick up and move on with my own life?

418rxncl2rl-_ac_us218_5. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski– In a way a book about an endless house that you many never leave seems tailor made to give you a book hangover. But in this case it wasn’t an immediate hangover but rather elements of the book randomly coming back to me at different points.

911-t2bi6l._ac_uy218_ml3_6.The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon– This book created a world that seemed so vivid with such twists and turns that I was surprised to finish it and realize that it was only a book.

41swp08eytl-_ac_us218_17. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters– Forget Gone Girl, this book had some twists that really threw me in terms of upending everything I thought I knew about the plot and characters. After I read it, I had several “what do you mean, that character is exactly who he claimed to be?!” experiences with books. I kept looking for the trick that wasn’t there!

 

41duzypmsll._ac_uy218_ml3_8. Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier – I loved Marillier’s world building in this series. I’d even go so far as to say that it (very indirectly!) inspired my own,  in Beautiful. But after I finished it was hard to get back to other books and worlds without holding them up to the same standard.

51vrv0hceml-_ac_us218_9. Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafasi– This book made me aware of how reading a novel can be a politically subversive act. That of course made me wonder about every book I read after it; “what deeply held ideas and institutions am I undermining by reading this book?”

41x7kokbrol-_ac_us218_10. The Secret History by Donna Tartt– After I read this I kept looking for read alikes. But after being burned by many books claiming to be a similar experience, I gave up on that quest.

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Wish I Owned

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday

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August 27: Books I’ve Read That I’d Like In My Personal Library (perhaps you checked it out, borrowed it from a friend, received it for review, etc. and want to own it yourself.) (Submitted by Annemieke @ A Dance with Books)

Most of these I got from the library originally

51i6ln7tmul-_ac_us218_1. The Library Book by Susan Orlean– I got this (rather fittingly) from the library. But it’s a beautiful book physically. I want my own copy.

71pwec3g0ol._ac_ul436_2. Flush by Virginia Woolf– I read this as an ebook, and I still own it that way, but I really liked it and I want a physical copy.

513xypka1bl-_ac_us218_3. Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield- I’d like to read this one again at some point.

51wn17e1xil-_ac_us218_4. Nuclear Family by Susanna Fogel– This is a novel in letters so it’s easy to pick up anywhere and just read one. They’re really funny so I’d like to have it on hand to read bits and pieces from time to time.

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5. Let Me Tell You by Shirley Jackson- Some of these lesser known stories and essays are better than others,  but I’d like to have them on hand, especially since some of them highlight Jackson’s humorous side, which we don’t often get to see.

51vp6vchi4l-_ac_us218_6. A Little Life by Hana Yanagihara– This book was beautiful but difficult to read. I’d like to revisit it at some point,  knowing the plot, so that I can appreciate some of the other elements.

51-xlyewull-_ac_us218_7. Crush by Richard Siken– I’m rather fussy about poetry but Siken’s work is vivid and compelling enough for me to want to revisit it often.

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8. M Train by Patti Smith– I have Smith’s other book, Just Kids, but I actually like this one much better.

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9. All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr– I read a book dealing with similar subject matter shortly after this and as a result they’re sort of blended in my mind. But I remember this one was vastly superior so I’d like to reread it and have it clearer in my memory.

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10. Outside Over There by Maurice Sendak– This is a childhood favorite that I’ve been trying to find forever. I may just order it from Amazon at some point.

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books I’m Thankful For

For the Broke and the Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesday:

November 21: Top Ten Books I’m Thankful For (Happy Thanksgiving week in the USA!)

I’m thankful for books period! I can’t imagine my life without them. I can’t imagine myself without them. But if I had to narrow it down to ten, these would definitely be on my list:

41qaj1ebj3l-_ac_us218_1. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion- A little less than two years ago I lost a loved one. I found that a lot of the books out there about grief ultimately ended with platitudes, with cliches and saccharine reassurances. But Didion’s memoir of her husband’s death (while their daughter was in a coma fighting for her life!) felt honest and real to me in a way that other books didn’t. It confronts the absurdity that we feel in the face of such a loss; the sense that things seem normal but they’re not supposed to be.  Then we go into the the grief- the violent waves of feeling, and mourning, is what happens in the meantime, the general sadness as we try to put ourselves back together again.

 Life changes fast.
Life changes in the instant.
You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.                                                        The question of self-pity.
Those were the first words I wrote after it happened. The computer dating on the Microsoft Word file (“Notes on change.doc”) reads “May 20, 2004, 11:11 p.m.,” but that would have been a case of my opening the file and reflexively pressing save when I closed it. I had made no changes to that file in May. I had made no changes to that file since I wrote the words, in January 2004, a day or two or three after the fact.
For a long time I wrote nothing else.
Life changes in the instant.
The ordinary instant.

51vrv0hceml-_ac_us218_2. Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi-  This really showed me how subversive and liberating the act of reading can be. It made me more thankful for my ability to read, and to do so without restriction.  The author, Nafisi, was a professor of Literature at the University of Tehran.  In 1995 she resigned her position because of increasingly repressive policies that grew even worse as time went on. But for two years, she had seven of her best female students come to her house every week, to read and discuss forbidden Western literature. This forum allowed the women to speak their minds about the political, social, cultural, and religious implications of living under strict Islamist rule. This gives the reader and understanding of revolutionary Iran. But what this book club really did was give women a chance to connect to a world they might never know otherwise. It allowed them confront different ways of thinking and accept them, reject them or modify them. In other words, it’s about how art helped these women to survive, to connect and to understand themselves in an extreme situation.

There, in that living room, we rediscovered that we were also living, breathing human beings; and no matter how repressive the state became, no matter how intimidated and frightened we were, like Lolita we tried to escape and to create our own little pockets of freedom,”

51swo9un1-l-_ac_us218_3. Emily of New Moon by LM Montgomery– I love Anne dearly. I would never want to give her up. But something about Emily spoke to the creative in me at a very young age. It’s that connection that I’m specifically thankful for. Unlike Anne, who was an orphan since she was a baby, Emily, lost her beloved father as a tween and was sent to live with relatives. That gives Emily a sort of melancholy right off. She knows what she’s lost.  Writing for her is a form of survival. It’s a way of communicating with her father. Initially, that’s a literal communication; she writes him letters. But it becomes more abstract as she gets older. I can relate to Emily’s desire to express certain ideas and feelings that don’t readily lend themselves to words.

“It had always seemed to Emily, ever since she could remember, that she was very, very near to a world of wonderful beauty. Between it and herself hung only a thin curtain; she could never draw the curtain aside– but sometimes, just for a moment, a wind fluttered it and then it was as if she caught a glimpse of the enchanting realm beyond– only a glimpse– and heard a note of unearthly music.”

51bkx0sulel-_ac_us218_4. Ramona the Pest by Beverley Cleary- Ramona taught me so much as a kid. I saw so much of myself in her. I tried to do the right thing, to understand what people wanted of me, but sometimes I fell short. It was nice to know that the same could be said of this character. Not only does Cleary have obvious sympathy for the misunderstandings that cause Ramona to be called a pest, but she also sees it as a tool for empowering a character who doesn’t have a lot of other resources. I liked the idea that what other people found annoying could be my way of getting what I wanted! This is definitely one of the books that first made me fall in love with reading.

“People who called her a pest did not understand that a littler person sometimes had to be a little bit noisier and a little bit more stubborn in order to be noticed at all.”

41appkv7zjl-_ac_us218_5. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood- I’m horrified that we live in a world where this novel is increasingly relevant. But if we must live in a world like that for time being, I’m thankful that it exists. It’s a warning and a call to arms in one volume. I read it for the first time in high school. At the time, I was just starting identify what being a feminist meant to me, as opposed to how other people perceived it. Before I read this book I tended to think of it as  equal opportunity for education and employment. I saw it as the idea that I didn’t need a man to survive, and that my value wasn’t defined by my male partner. I still believe all of that. But this book really illustrated how much physical autonomy is a part of it. Women’s bodies are seen by our society as a sort of common ground. From there it’s a very slippery slope. Men start feeling qualified to make decisions about women’s health, their sexuality.  In so many ways this has ceased to be speculative fiction, and become frighteningly realistic. But there is one way that the United States is different from Gilead. We can read what we want. And that might be the best reason to read this book. It’s why I’m so thankful that it exists.

“But remember that forgiveness too is a power. To beg for it is a power, and to withhold or bestow it is a power, perhaps the greatest.
Maybe none of this is about control. Maybe it isn’t really about who can own whom, who can do what to whom and get away with it, even as far as death. Maybe it isn’t about who can sit and who has to kneel or stand or lie down, legs spread open. Maybe it’s about who can do what to whom and be forgiven for it. Never tell me it amounts to the same thing.”

51pwjyt4e0l-_ac_us218_6. Beauty by Robin McKinley- When I first started college, I had a question for one of the girls in the dorm room down the hall from mine (don’t ask me what it was, I honestly don’t remember!) When I opened the door, she was sprawled on her bed reading this book. Immediately we started talking about fairy tale retellings! So this book helped me make one of my first friends in college. Actually that’s not the only friend that I’ve made due to Beauty and the Beast retellings (but that’s another story…)  But it also was one of my first exposures to fairy tales retold for older readers. It allowed me to see a familiar take in a new way, and turned me on to so many other fairy tale retellings! Later, writers like Angela Carter, Anne Sexton, Neil Gaiman, and Michael Cunningham showed me that fairy tale retellings can also be literary, or shocking, or subversive.

“Would it help perhaps if I told you that, had your father returned to me alone, I would have sent him on his way unharmed?”

“You would!” I said; it was half a shriek. “You mean that I came here for nothing?”

A shadowy movement like the shaking of a great shaggy head. “No. Not what you would count as nothing. He would have returned to you, and you would have been glad, but you also would have been ashamed, because you had sent him, as you thought, to his death. Your shame would have grown until you came to hate the sight of your father, because he reminded you of a deed you hated, and hated yourself for. In time it would have ruined your peace and happiness, and at last your mind and heart.”

51vp6vchi4l-_ac_us218_7. A Little Life by Hana Yanagihara- I feel a little odd being thankful for this book, because it’s hard to stomach in many ways. It discusses abuse and trauma that are almost too horrible to believe. In one way you could read it as saying that there are things that can happen to a person that are just too terrible to endure.  But I didn’t read it that way. Thankfully, I read it at a time in my life where I was able to take it as an affirmation of the power of friendship and love. It’s about the beauty of the struggle through life. By the end of the book, a character who has lost so, so much, is left with compassion.  To me that’s a really beautiful notion.

“He had looked at Jude, then, and had felt that same sensation he sometimes did when he thought, really thought of Jude and what his life had been: a sadness, he might have called it, but it wasn’t a pitying sadness; it was a larger sadness, one that seemed to encompass all the poor striving people, the billions he didn’t know, all living their lives, a sadness that mingled with a wonder and awe at how hard humans everywhere tried to live, even when their days were so very difficult, even when their circumstances were so wretched. Life is so sad, he would think in those moments. It’s so sad, and yet we all do it.”

51fm3ylbgvl-_ac_us218_8. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith- I definitely identified with the heroine of this book. Her name was Francie, mine was Fran. She loved to read, and I loved to read. She lived in Brooklyn and I… well I’d lived there for a year when I was a baby, and so I’m pretty sure that we have that in common too! I think I was about twelve the first time I read this. I read it again in college and was stunned to discover how much I missed, how much went over my head on that first read!  It’s harsh and realistic; poignant and bittersweet.

“From that time on, the world was hers for the reading. She would never be lonely again, never miss the lack of intimate friends. Books became her friends and there was one for every mood. There was poetry for quiet companionship. There was adventure when she tired of quiet hours. There would be love stories when she came into adolescence and when she wanted to feel a closeness to someone she could read a biography. On that day when she first knew she could read, she made a vow to read one book a day as long as she lived.”

51c3wnrodsl-_ac_us218_9. Molly’s Pilgrim by Barbara Cohen- Let’s face it: historically speaking Thanksgiving is a problematic holiday (to say the least!). That’s one reason I look at it as a time to be with my family and take stock the people and things I’m grateful for, as opposed to honoring a largely fictional story of the pilgrims. Even as a child I read enough to know that the happy, friendly version of the Thanksgiving story that we were given wasn’t the whole story. So I was grateful to discover this book, about an immigrant girl who feels uncomfortable in the US. When her teacher has the class make pilgrim dolls for Thanksgiving, Molly and her mother make a doll that looks like them; a Russian Jew who comes to America fleeing religious persecution (like them). This teaches Molly’s classmates that a pilgrim isn’t only someone who sailed on the Mayflower. It also proves that by coming to the US for religious freedom, Molly, an immigrant, is just as much an American as some of the first settlers. That’s something that a lot of contemporary Americans should consider when condemning immigrants, and people who practice religions that aren’t Christianity.

“Pilgrims came to this country from the other side,” I said.
“Like us,” Mama said.
That was true. “They came for religious freedom,” I added. “They came so they could worship God as they pleased.”
Mama’s eyes lit up. She seemed to understand.

51anzhy5btl-_ac_us218_10. Fairy Tales from around the world- This might be cheating since it’s really more of a category than a single book, but fairy tales shaped my childhood in a way that nothing else did. They shape what I write now. They taught me the important things in life: that sometimes things aren’t what they first appear to be, that a good heart is never completely unrewarded, that you can’t get something for nothing, and that magic will only save you if you use it wisely.

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”

“When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than any talent for abstract, positive thinking.”

~Albert Einstein~

I’m also thankful for

  • Parents who read to me all the time, taught me to read for myself, and encouraged me to read everything I could get my hands on!
  • The books, fiction and nonfiction, that taught me something new, let me look at something with new eyes, and changed or influenced my perspective in some way.
  • All of the books that I can’t list on here that took me to a different time or place. That gave me an escape from reality when I need one, or even simply, a friend when I needed one.
  • All the wonderful people I’ve met this year through this blog; and the wonderful books that they’ve helped me discover!

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Books I Struggled to Get Into But Ended Up Being Worth the Effort

For The Broke and the Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesday:

September 5Ten Books I Struggled to Get Into But Ended Up Being Worth the Effort

These are all books that I considered putting down at one point (though in several chases they were assigned for school, but if they hadn’t been I may have considered it!) but I ended up being glad that I didn’t.

41cqtfv5hpl-_ac_us218_1. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky- This was a book that I read with my AP Lit class in high school. I read it again in a 19th Century Novel class in college. It’s not easy going because a lot of what occurs takes place in the mind of Raskolnikov, the main character. Raskolnikov is an impoverished ex student living in St. Petersberg. He believes that there are some people who are a drain on society, who take advantage of the little guys, and who the world is ultimately better without. Surely we’d all be better off if these people would be put to death…. After a lot of deliberation, he kills Alyona Ivanovna, a greedy pawnbroker. In the process he also ends up killing her sister, Lizaveta, who happened to witness the crime. Once he makes his escape, Raskolnikov can’t get a moment’s peace. He worries obsessively over the details of the murder. Raskolnikov isn’t what you’d call psychologically sound. So spending a lot of time in his head can get confusing, and occasionally frustrating. But it’s worth it overall, to watch this feverish, tortured man, do the inexcusable, while truly believing it to be the best thing for society overall. It’s interesting to see him begin to realize the horror of what he’s done and wonder if redemption is possible.

418rxncl2rl-_ac_us218_2. The House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski– At first it feels like there’s too much happening here. We begin with the story of Johnny Truant, a tattoo artist who confesses to being “an unreliable narrator”. He’s looking for an apartment and his friend tells him about the apartment of Zampano, a recently deceased old man. In Zampano’s apartment, Truant finds a manuscript called “The Navidson Record” which is an academic study of a documentary film, which may or may not actually exist. So we have Zampano’s study of the film, Truant’s autobiographical asides, a transcript of part of the film, interviews with people involved in “The Navidson Record” and masses of footnotes. We also get some narration from Truant’s mother through a self contained set of letters. It gets overwhelming! But as we read, we discover that there are small cues to keep the narratives straight, and that eventually they all come together to create a whole.

61eiooixctl-_ac_us218_3. Middlemarch by George Eliot– I read this for a college class and initially it seemed like a huge chore. We had what seemed to be endless descriptions of this town. The subtitle of the book is “A Study of Provincial Life” and for the first few chapters it seemed more like an academic study than a novel. Fortunately, as time went on, we become more involved in the lives of the town people. To a large extent, the focus is on the life of Dorothea Brooks, and the career of Tertius Lydgate and how the two intersect. But significant attention is also given to the courtship of two townspeople, and one man’s disgrace. I was surprised to go from dreading reading about dry facts, to slowly becoming involved in the lives of these characters.

61hyvemt7ol-_ac_us218_4. Possession by AS Byatt– Byatt says that she wrote it in response to author John Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman:

Fowles has said that the nineteenth-century narrator was assuming the omniscience of a god. I think rather the opposite is the case—this kind of fictive narrator can creep closer to the feelings and inner life of characters—as well as providing a Greek chorus—than any first-person mimicry. In ‘Possession’ I used this kind of narrator deliberately three times in the historical narrative—always to tell what the historians and biographers of my fiction never discovered, always to heighten the reader’s imaginative entry into the world of the text

The novel portrays two present day academics, Roland Mitchell and Maud Bailey, who investigate the life and relationship of two Victorian poets, Randolph Henry Ash (based on Robert Browning and Alfred, Lord Tennyson) and Christabelle LaMotte (based on Christina Rosetti). They follow a trail of clues hidden in letters and journals,  to find out about the true nature of the Ash-LaMotte relationship, before rival colleagues do. The extensive diaries, poetry, and letters of the main characters are presented in the book as is the fictional poetry of Ash and LaMotte. All of this, and the academic way that Roland and Maud think, can initially make this feel dense and inapproachable. It takes some patience and getting used to.

51vp6vchi4l-_ac_us218_5. A  Little Life by Hana Yanagihara– This isn’t a book that hard to read because anything about the text itself is difficult. Rather it’s hard because it’s is so sad, and deals with so many difficult and taboo subjects. Four friends graduate an elite college and begin their lives in NYC. Willem is a kind hearted aspiring actor. JB is a painter of Hatian descent.  Malcom is an architect from a biracial family, who still lives at home. Jude is a lawyer of unknown ethnicity. Though the narration is omniscient and we meet all the characters, the bulk of the focus falls on Jude. We’re first told of an “accident” when he was a child that wasn’t really an accident, but left him permanently disabled and in a lot of pain. Then we learn that the orphaned Jude has a tendency to cut himself. We also learn that he hates sex, and that he doesn’t believe that he deserves any of the devoted friends and family that he has. It’s some time before we learn the truth of Jude’s life before he met his friends at college. When we do learn about it, it’s more horrific than anything we imagined. Some reviewers called the book “melodrama” or even “torture porn”. But it doesn’t embrace the elements to shock the reader, but rather to access an emotional truth. When Jude finally tells a loved one the truth, this person tells him that it wasn’t his fault. He was a child. He was the victim of people who preyed on his innocence and desperation, and that none of what he experienced has made him unworthy of love. Jude struggles to believe that, and to live a good life- one that he has earned through his own hard work. He loves other people and he tries to let them love him in return. For most of us these things aren’t a struggle at all. But for Jude they are a constant battle. But there’s tremendous beauty in that effort.

51zpob-ijil-_ac_us218_6. Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett- Frances Crawford of Lymond is a Scottish nobleman accused of deceit, treachery, treason, rape, and murder. He’s only guilty of a few of those things. He returns to Scotland in 1547 after several years in exile for reasons that won’t be revealed for some time. His own brother has vowed to kill him. But for rather complicated reasons, Lymond, accused of treason, may be the only person who can save his country from an English invasion.  I think the series is definitely worth reading (based on the first two books) but they’re not easy reads. We don’t really get inside the character’s thoughts much, so it’s often a while before we understand what’s going on and why.  The main character is a brilliantly educated polygot who often makes references that I don’t get right away. So it takes some effort to get into. Another author would have told us early on what’s happening, what Lymond is accused of and what accusations were false, where he’s been for the past few years and why he’d return to Scotland. In that case, the action of the book, would be front and center. The fact that Dunnett leaves the character’s motives so unknown makes this an interesting, sometimes confusing take on the historical fiction genre.

 

51j8xsssd0l-_ac_us218_7. The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber -In 1870’s London, Sugar is a prostitute in a brothel. Like many in her profession, she longs for a better life. William Rackham is a well-to-do businessman takes Sugar on as a mistress, and she’s draws herself into his life; his mentally fragile wife, Agnes; their deceitful housekeeper Clara, their mysterious daughter Sophie…. The characters aren’t easy to classify. Is Sugar a bad woman scheming to manipulate a wealthy man and get his money? Or is she a woman who was dealt a bad had, doing what she can to make her way in a world that’s not very kind?  At times the author suggests the answer to this question, but never outright answers it. But it’s not an easy read. At 922 pages it’s a long haul and we really see the ugly side of Victorian London, in a way that Dickens spared us.

51yxivihhl-_ac_us218_8. The Magus by John Fowles– Nicholas is an Oxford grad who takes a job as a teacher at a school on a remote Greek island. Over the summer, he becomes bored, depressed and lonely. Then he meets Maurice Conchis, a wealthy recluse who lives on the island.  Nicholas is gradually drawn into Conchis’ psychological games. At first he sees these games as a sort of a joke. But as they grow more elaborate and intense, Nicholas reaches a point where he isn’t able to tell what’s real and what isn’t. The reader can’t tell either and it gets kind of trippy. Several portions of the book have a “what the heck was that?” quality to them. But that ambiguity is also what makes it interesting.

51656aeukhl-_ac_us218_9. East Lynne by Mrs. Henry Wood– Lady Isabel Carlyle leaves her husband an babies to elope with Frances Levison. She bears Levison’s illegitmate child before she realizes that he has no intention of marrying her. He deserts Isabel, who is then disfigured in a train accident, and her child is killed (because apparently bad things really do happen in threes!) Lady Isabel gets a job as a governess in the household of her former husband and his new wife. This allows her to be close to the children she abandoned. But the pressure of keeping up the facade becomes too much for her. I read this because I was interested in Victorian “sensation” novels. I enjoyed it, in spite of, and at times because of, its rather implausible plot. But it’s also tough going at times because of the various shifting and double identities.

414n0roja3l-_ac_us218_10. Arcadia by Tom Stoppard– This play shifts between modern day Sidley Park and the same locations in the early 19th century. In the past, Thomasina, the daughter of the house, and Septimus Hodge, her tutor. The present day story concerns Hannah and Bernard, two academic researchers investigating a scandal caused by Lord Byron when he stayed at Sidley Park. The two story lines interweave math, physics, literature, philosophy,  architecture, and philosophy. I was assigned to read this in the summer before I started college before my freshman seminar. It made me very nervous about not being smart enough for college, because I felt like a lot of it went right over my head! But when we started to go through it in class and analyze it, I realized how clever, funny, and enjoyable this really was.

Top Ten Tuesday: Best of 2017 (So Far…)

For the Broke and the Bookish’s Top Ten Tuesday

June 27Best Books You’ve Read In 2017 So Far (break it down however you want — by genre, strictly 2017 releases, whatever!)

So far 2017 has been good to me in terms of books. Hopefully that’ll continue! Here some of the best I’ve read this year (so far).

  1. Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff- Lotto and Mathilde married at twenty two. A decade later, their marriage is still the envy of their friends. Many people say that honesty and openness are needed for a successful marriage, but in this book, Lotto and Mathilde are kept together by what they don’t share, what they keep from their partner to protect them. We see the story first from Lotto’s perspective. Then it shifts and we see it from Mathilde’s point of view. It’s not the marriage I’d want, but it does work for these two….

    “Please. Marriage is made of lies. Kind ones, mostly. Omissions. If you give voice to the things you think every day about your spouse, you’d crush them to paste. She never lied. Just never said.”

  2.  Hag-seed by Margaret Atwood– Felix Phillips lost his job as the artistic director of a theater company while he was grieving for his lost daughter. He disappears to lick his wounds, and emerges from his self imposed exile to teach literacy in a local prison. He teachers Shakespeare to the inmates, and a prison production of The Tempest gives his excellent opportunity for revenge against those who once wronged him. Atwood re-imagines Shakespeare’s The Tempest in a contemporary setting. Not only does she prove that Shakespeare’s work is truly universal, but she also shines some light on aspects of the original play that I’ve missed before.

    “The rest of his life. How long that time had once felt to him. How quickly it has sped by. How much of it has been wasted. How soon it will be over.” 

  3. Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye– I think I’ve mentioned this book before. Think Jane Eyre meets Dexter. Jane Steele, much like her counterpart, is “poor, obscure, plain and little.” She’s not heartless but sometimes she has to do some bad things. It’s usually for a good reason. When she falls for her employer, Mr. Thornfield, she gets in over her head trying to reconcile her past and future. 

    Reader, I murdered him….”

  4. A Little Life by Hana Yanagihara – I put this on my TBR list for this summer and I got to it sooner than I thought I would! It’s not an easy book. It asks a lot of readers. But it gives a lot too, in terms of beautiful language (some sentences I’d just read over to experience them again) and characters you care about in spite of their faults. It’s about Jude St. Francis, who survives a childhood of horrific abuse to find success as an adult. At least outwardly. He has adoptive parents, a thriving career, great friends, but he can’t accept that he’s deserving of any of it. He waits for the day that everyone else realizes it too.

    “He had looked at Jude, then, and had felt that same sensation he sometimes did when he thought, really thought of Jude and what his life had been: a sadness, he might have called it, but it wasn’t a pitying sadness; it was a larger sadness, one that seemed to encompass all the poor striving people, the billions he didn’t know, all living their lives, a sadness that mingled with a wonder and awe at how hard humans everywhere tried to live, even when their days were so very difficult, even when their circumstances were so wretched. Life is so sad, he would think in those moments. It’s so sad, and yet we all do it.” 

  5. Crush by Richard Siken– I’m not usually a poetry reader, but someone recommended Siken a few months ago, and now I’m obsessed. It’s about love and anxiety and violence and how those three themes intersect. It shows us the ugly side of love and the beautiful side of obsession. It explores a “crush” in all its meanings; a romantic infatuation, a force that destroys or deforms,  and to subdue completely.

    “Tell me how all this, and love too, will ruin us./ These, our bodies, possessed by light./ Tell me we’ll never get used to it. “

  6. Ex Libris: Confessions of A Common Reader by Anne Fadiman– This is a collection of essays about Fadiman’s lifelong love affair with books and language.  As a child she built castles out of books rather than blocks. As an adult, she only truly considered herself married when she and her husband merged libraries (never mind that she and her husband had, at that point, been married five years and had a child together; merging libraries means intimacy…commitment!) In these essays, Fadiman reflects on the appeals of mail order catalogs, the urge to proofread everything and report typos, and why second hand books are nicer than new ones.

    “[T]here is a certain kind of child who awakens from a book as from an abyssal sleep, swimming heavily up through layers of consciousness toward a reality that seems less real than the dream-state that has been left behind. I was such a child.” 

  7. The White Album by Joan Didion– In this book Joan Didion reflects in the culture and counterculture of America in the 1960’s and 70’s. She explores her subjects on a number of levels, revealing not just the intelligence and skepticism that she’s known for, but also her dry, self deprecating sense of humor. Her subjects range from the Hoover Dam, to the Manson family, to migraines, to water in the desert, and biker exploitation films.

    “We tell ourselves stories in order to live…We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the “ideas” with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.” 

  8. The Wonder by Emma Donoghue–  I’m a long time fan of Ms. Donoghue, but initially I had trouble getting into this book. It starts off rather slow, and has a protagonist who we don’t like right away. But I’m glad I stuck with it. It has a great atmosphere and we build toward caring about the characters. In the late 19th century, Libby is a nurse, trained by Florence Nightingale. She’s asked to come to Ireland to care for, and observe 11 year old Anna, who hasn’t eaten in four months and has become a local sensation and even tourist attraction. She plans on exposing Anna as a hoax as soon as she figures out how Anna’s doing it, but as she sends more time with Anna and her family, Libby finds herself confronting local legends, lore, and religious belief.  It draws on various cases of “Fasting Girls” that turned up throughout Europe from the 16th to the 20th centuries.

    “A fast didn’t go fast; it was the slowest thing there was. Fast meant a door shut fast, firmly. A fastness, a fortress. To fast was to hold fast to emptiness, to say no and no and no again.” 

  9. The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in A Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente– I would recommend this to readers who are new to Valente. Some of Valente’s work for older readers is harder to embrace because the emphasis is more on feeling that plot. The prose is beautiful but sometimes hard to follow. Though this book is intended for middle grade readers, I think that readers of all ages can find something to enjoy here. It’s about a girl named September, who is brought to Fairyland by the Green Wind. There she makes several friends, and must find a talisman for an evil queen. It recalls works ranging from Alice in Wonderland to The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe to The Wizard of Oz.

    “Stories have a way of changing faces. They are unruly things, undisciplined, given to delinquency and the throwing of erasers. This is why we must close them up into thick, solid books, so they cannot get out and cause trouble.” 

  10. The  Brontesaurus: An A-Z of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Bronte (and Branwell) by John Sutherland and John Crace– I’m a major Bronte fan, as I’ve said before. I’ve read several biographies of the Brontes, but this was more of an encyclopedia of trivia. Did you ever want to know the never discussed, implied origins of Mr. Rochester’s wealth? Curious as to what “Wuthering” actually means? It includes an “abbreviated Jane Eyre” as well, and it’s got a nice sense of humor and wit.

    “There is no fate worse for fiction than to come and go into Shakespeare’s ‘wallet of oblivion’. Everything from ‘Jane Hair’ salons to Jane Eyrotica confirms that will never happen to the Brontës’ fiction. Their novels will last as long as there is money to be made from the novels, which are wholly uncontaminated. Long live ‘tat’: it bears witness to long life.”